Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Recreation and Sport Management

Major Professor

Angela J. Wozencroft

Committee Members

Steven N. Waller, James H. Bemiller


The use of helmets in outdoor recreational rock climbing is a risk management practice meant to offer some protection to climbers in the event of falls and falling objects. Helmets are used inconsistently across many disciplines of rock climbing including top-rope, sport lead, traditional lead and belay. Though climbing accidents involving head injuries are rare, many tend to be severe. The purpose of this study was to assess the rate at which helmets are being used, discover the most significant personal and environmental factors that influence use and non-use and differences between disciplines. The study surveys (N = 1481) climbers across the U.S. regarding their helmet use as well as human and environmental factors in their perceptions of risk. Major findings include helmet use rates (on a 1-5 likert scale [1] never [5] always) for disciplines of top-rope (M = 2.71), sport lead (M = 3.41) and traditional lead (M = 4.16) with corresponding belays means slightly lower in sport and traditional lead. Major factors influencing helmet use includes slope, difficulty, rock quality, attitudes, values and beliefs, peer influence, training, learning venue, age and experience. Significant differences in groups based on discipline are found for every influencing factor. All groups generally report helmet use levels that correspond to the relative hazard and risk levels associated with each discipline of climbing. The results can be used to inform current climbing culture, marketing strategies, education, peer mentoring and above all personal risk management practices of climbers. Recommendations are made against mandatory helmet use policy and in favor of increased education, qualified instruction and situational awareness.


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